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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The New Cham-peen of Lazy-Ass

Well, here we are, July 4th, Independence Day. I generally try to mark the passing of holidays in some appropriate way here on the blog, but in general, we Americans have more reasons to be ashamed of our country these days than we've had since the McCarthy era. As to what any given citizen will be most anguished by, well, there's a sprouting bouquet of skullduggery (and thuggery) from which to pick, and I won't belabor you with my choices. One just wishes the self-congratulatory fireworks could be forgone for a year or three, that's all. It's embarrassing.

(Actually, I never liked fireworks. Never took a picture of 'em, either....)

But anyway, here are two little events from my own little quotidian meander that together seem to put a thumb on our collective carotid. First, late last summer I paid $20 for a fill-up for the car for the first time in my life, and, ever since, I've been waiting for the inevitable next landmark. Finally, in the run-up to this Fourth of July weekend, it happened: I saw the meter on the pump tick over $30 for the very first time.

I keep thinking of the super-cool Air Car, a Popular Mechanics reader's wet dream, and I notice the Smart Car is going to be sold here sometime soon. On the other hand—skullduggery again—Who Killed The Electric Car? My great-grandmother had an electric car. My mother remembers that the only sound it made when it arrived was the tires crunching on the gravel.

Second, I was delighted to uncover a new champion in a contest I thought was over long ago. One of the peculiarities of my countrymen here in the U.S. is that, in store parking lots, many of us seem to vie for the spots closest to the doors, to the point that some people will actually lie in wait in their cars for departing customers to get in their cars and leave so they can occupy the newly empty parking space. Many years ago I began to wonder just how lazy these people were, so I started to keep track: I just wanted to see how few cars' widths a waiter would save by waiting. The rules were strict: the cars waiting for me to leave had to hunker down to wait for me while I was still walking toward my car, the nearby empty space had to be visible, I couldn't be blocking the lane as I walked, and the person who got out of the car had to be healthy (we reserve plenty of spaces for the aged, the halt and the lame right by store entrances, mainly used by perfectly healthy people who are in possession of handicapped placards). Then I'd simply note how long a walk the waiter had saved themselves by waiting for me to leave, by counting the number of cars between the space I'd occupied and the next available free space.

This was fun for a while, but relatively quickly I had what I thought was a champion: a citizen who saved himself a walk of four car widths by waiting impatiently for me to pull out. This then occurred again, and again and again and again. I stopped paying attention. I figured four parking spaces was as little as anyone would bother to save themselves in this weird unspoken competition.

That was decades ago, so long I'd almost forgotten. But then just the other day I was walking toward my car in the parking lot of the local Pick'N'Save, and I noticed that a car was stalking me. I got into my car and vacated my space, which she quickly took. Here's the fun part: there were only two occupied spaces between my space and a stretch of five empty spaces! I circled around the parking lot to see if I'd truly found a New Champion. Sure enough, a perfectly ambulatory woman of no more than 40—only moderately overweight by Wisconsin standards—got out of the car and walked briskly toward the store. By waiting for me to leave, she had saved herself the exertion of walking no more than an extra twenty feet.

Wow. She wins.

Bring on the fireworks.



Blogger Tim said...

$30 to fill a car, I'm so jealous. In the UK the average price of petrol is 94.6 pence a litre, about $1.75 (US).
Happy holiday and best wishes.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Scott Kirkpatrick said...

Here, too. As long as I can remember, European gas has hovered at $1 (equivalent) per liter, but of course now it's $1.50 to $2.00, depending on your nation's degree of flattery to the major oil-producing nations.

But for a lazy summer recollection of days gone by, how does gas across the GW Bridge in Secaucus, NJ, at 29 cents/gallon strike you? And how many stations would you drive past to get to the ultimate, Petco no-name 25 cents/gallon stuff? I guess that dates me a bit.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Yes, U.S. gas is still rather cheap. It's really just going from under $20 for a fill-up to over $30 in less than one year that's a shock.

More shocking to me is that a friend of mine--a scientist in Oregon--recently received a bald threat from the Department of the Interior, from which she gets a portion of her income (through grants). She had mentioned global warming in several scientific papers, and she was told in no uncertain terms, mention global warming again and you're fired. We seem to be living in some weird capitalist mirror of the old Soviet Union now, alas.


6:21 AM  
Blogger Robert Roaldi said...

Here in Ottawa, gasoline is 5-8 cents more per litre in the morning than in the afternoon. Micro-economics at its best, I guess. More people buy gas in the morning, so there's a higher demand and the price goes up. Just like the textbooks say. :)

The infiltration of partisan guvmint and corporate interests in what is supposed to be scientific research is about as low as humans can get, intellectually speaking. We can go a lot lower than that, of course, in other areas. If you want to disgust yourself, start doing some research into Big Pharma and their manipulation of bio-medical research all done with the backing of elected friends.

I didn't used to be this bad of a cynic. But nowadays, I assume that people in guvmint are lying to me to line their own pockets, until proven otherwise.

7:14 AM  
Blogger Leonard Metcalf said...

Here in Australia we already pay $1.40 per litre. With a large 4wd that translates to over $180.00 per tank. Tonights tv advertised that we can expect a price hike due to the US going on holidays. Figure?

Loving your blog Mike,


7:46 AM  
Blogger Olaf Ulrich said...

> By waiting for me to leave, she
> had saved herself the exertion
> of walking no more than an extra
> twenty feet.
> Wow. She wins.

And exactly that is the point. To win. It seems the average U. S. citizen is very quick at dividing the world into winners and losers. The parking lot closest to the door is for Da Boss, and those farther away are for the losers. It's not about saving a few feet's walk, it's about not being a loser.

Regarding fuel prices ... here in Germany currently I pay 60 Euro to fill my car ($70 - $75 US for 50 litres of diesel oil---no idea how many gallons that is). Two or three years ago it used to be only 40 Euro or so ... and prices keep climbing. Gasoline is even more.

Regarding the U. S. Department of Interior and their idea of how to handle global warming ... well, I better keep my mouth shut.

-- Olaf

8:44 AM  
Blogger scotth said...

I think gasoline should be expensive. I might have less gigantic, king cab, four wheel drive pick up trucks to deal with on my daily commute then. I think that the cost of gasoline in Europe is the main reason most of the cars there are more fuel efficient. Mot to mention the infrastructure that is in much better shape because of the tax revenue.

It is always interesting to me how some people will drive around and then wait five minutes for a parking spot to save themselves a 30 second walk. Probably the same impulse that has people riding each other's bumpers and slowing everything down during rush hour.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Don said...

There is plenty in this country to be proud of. Spend some time thinking about the positive this holiday.

10:07 AM  
Blogger RandallT said...


On this Fourth of July let me say how much I enjoy The Online Photographer and how much I miss the Quotidian Meander. In honor of the holiday I'm wearing my John Kerry for president hat today.

At least your Cham-peen took a parking space. Lots of folks here just park in the fire lanes or no parking zones. Ya know it's hard to see those signs from the rarified height of an SUV when you have a cell phone shoved up your ear, and your nose in the air.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Joshwa said...

Even in the US that seems low to me-- here in NYC a fill up can go above $40... Where is TOP HQ?

12:35 PM  
Blogger Motto! said...

Robert, to say that it is purely microeconomics seems naive at best. Can you explain why in the small-ish town I live in, on one side near the highway gas is invariably 3.5c/L more than near downtown? And I mean the word invariably in a literal sense, I have NEVER seen this rule broken.

12:57 PM  
Blogger John Roberts said...

Oooops! Looks like you forgot that you have an international readership. People hate to hear one of the rich kids on the block whine.

A quick check of gasoline prices from around the world revealed several countries with lower prices. Only problem is, you wouldn't have the freedom fo publish your blog from most of them.

Happy Independence day!

12:58 PM  
Blogger mbb said...

Expensive gas on the 4th is about as American as you can get. Heck, here in Philly the entire holiday is sponsored by an oil company - Sunoco Welcome America

6:01 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

T.O.P. HQ is Waukesha, Wisconsin, and the T.O.P.-mobile is an 8-year-old Ford Escort ZX2, a delightful and nearly trouble-free little car of the type all the car magazines used to refer to as "peppy," that gets good gas mileage and has about a 10-gallon tank. $30 IS low. As far as all my neighbors who drive humongous SUVs and extended-cab, 6-wheel pickup trucks, well, I want to know what they do for a living.


6:08 PM  
Blogger Arie Friedman said...

This morning I woke up and spent the entire day EXACTLY as I wanted. I said anything and everything I wanted. I took pictures of everything and anything I wanted. I watched my 4 children play and laugh all day long. AND ALL OF IT WAS WITHOUT A MOMENT OF FEAR! My grandparents fled to this country so that we could live this life of freedom, prosperity, and independence. Most everything else is just static.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

The static is beginning to have a distinctly totalitarian cast, if you ask me. The government is cracking down on dissent, limiting peaceful protest, dictating to scientists, spying on its own citizens, engaging in illegitimate wars, defying the Constitution, and at least one of the last two elections was rigged. Better wake up and smell the coffee unless you have a good idea of another country to which you can flee for the good of your own grandchildren.


9:52 PM  
Blogger Max said...

And people, it sounds from some poster's comments as if they believe the rest of the world outside the USA is in a permanent state of missery, stupidity and civil war. It's annoying, it's false, and it gives the rest of us a good idea of why fear politics work so well (as well for terrorists as for your own government). Mike, I'm sorry to say this in your blog, but it's really annoying to hear that we are not the blessed ones because we don't live there, implied in one way or another (and if you're a sensible person you might have a clue about how stupid it sounds when seen from elsewhere).

4:13 PM  
Blogger Arie Friedman said...

I'm pretty sure that I can "smell the coffee" on the subject of our political freedoms. I don't agree with your politics so much, but I LOVE the fact that you aren't getting dragged out of your home at night for expressing them. I would be willing to bet that NO ONE in the US government cares one way or another about your expressed views (unless your congressman is in a close reelection campaign). Totalitatian states have silent political arenas - not fractious ones. I'm not suggesting that we cease being vigilant about our freedoms, but I personally think it is disproportionate to suggest that we are sinking into totalitarianism.

And Max, its not that Americans think the rest of the world is in misery, we are just (especially on our Independence Day Holiday) understandably grateful for our wonderful good fortune. I would NEVER begrudge ANYONE the opportunity to celebrate their freedom and prosperity. If you are also lucky enough to live the life of a free man, then you are my brother.

1:15 AM  
Blogger MJFerron said...

Gas is expensive but Mike don't be so negative on the U.S.A. It's not perfect but we do what we want when we want where we want. (for the most part.) Cheer up guy.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"I don't agree with your politics so much, but I LOVE the fact that you aren't getting dragged out of your home at night for expressing them."

Another way of looking at this is that it requires no courage on our part to stand up and resist. AI remember a number of years ago when I expressed contempt at the lawless state of Columbia, my stepfather reminded me gently that I have no concept of the kind of courage it takes for, say, a judge to render an honest verdict when he might lose his life for it. Consider Mole Soyinka in Nigeria or all the years Mandela spent in jail or any one of a hundred other examples. Here we have the most un-American President in our history, a man whose first loyalty is demonstrably NOT to the U.S. Constitution, and his government is trampling on traditional American freedoms and values left and right. And it requires no courage on our part to object, to resist, to stand up for what is RIGHT and what is AMERICAN. All that is required is that we pay attention, stay clear about principles, not get distracted by greed. But instead we allow ourselves to be confused by their weak bullshit ("War on Terror" my ass) and bullied by their low tactics. We are literally not paying attention. We're distracted by our infatuation with movie stars and our endless pursuit of acquiring more crap, literally stuffed till we're fat, greedy, sodden with our own self-importance and self-justification. So we go along with their despicable garbage even when it requires no courage to stick by the traditional American values and freedoms and kick the imperialist corporatist bastards out of Washington.

By the time it DOES require true courage to resist, it will be too late. The price of freedom is vigilance, and we have long ago forgotten how to be vigilant. At least 34% of us don't even know what to look for.


8:40 AM  
Blogger Brambor said...


12:30 PM  
Blogger sjmilzy said...

Applause for Arie. Mike, the price for your freedom is not vigilance, it was a lot of blood.


7:26 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

" was a lot of blood."

And that brings us full circle to what this Fourth of July is all about. There is possibly nothing more obscene than a country asking free citizens to die in a bad cause. And there is no surer way of pissing on the graves of those who gave their blood for America than by abrogating everything good America stands for in the name of mere greed. We have become something we were not meant to be: an arrogant, imperialist nation with a government by the powerful and for the powerful. It's just flat-out disgusting, and everyone who supports the scoundrels who are now in power should be ashamed of themselves.


5:02 PM  
Blogger Arie Friedman said...

Whoa, dude.. just in case you're forgetting, we have an all volunteer military. No one is asking any free American to do ANYTHING they haven't signed up for. Moreover, I can tell you from personal experience that your political views are not shared by many in uniform. That despite Michael Moore's attempts to make it appear otherwise. So, what we have here is an elected civilian leadership (and it is truly passe to keep perseverating about the "stolen" 2000 election - especially after 2004)sending a VOLUNTEER military to do a job most of that same military wholeheartedly support.

Last I heard, the polling done on my former bretheren in the professional officer corp resulted in approx 75 support for the conflict in Iraq and elsewhere. No one is pissing on anyone's grave here.

Every time I start rethinking my position on Iraq, I wonder who I would rather stand with: Michael Moore or the guys with boots on the ground and rotors in the air.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

You've apparently never heard of "stop loss," a policy whereby volunteers are conscripted. As despicable a betrayal of citizen-soldiers as has been recorded in our annals. Of course, this betrayal is having a "free market effect" because it's resulted in a severe recruiting crisis. Which in turn has led to a marked relaxing of recruiting standards, which is coincident with an increase in atrocities and war crimes being committed in our name--in MY name, which absolutely outrages me--in the world.

I suggest you do a little more research before assuming that American soldiers support the war they're engaged in. First of all, it's disingenuous to talk about active-duty soldiers, because part of their duty is to be loyal to their commanders and follow their orders. Former soldiers from Iraq are indeed speaking out against the war, and that includes general officers. In any case, I'm not sure how germane any of this is to the point. The fact is, anything our military does in Iraq is based on a welter of lies, a persistent policy of innuendo and false association by which our "leaders" attempted to mislead Americans into believing that the Iraqis had something to do with 9/11. As you probably know, even Bush himself has admitted this isn't true. That's the travesty: that American volunteers are being used like Hessians, as mercenaries to further the aims of a power elite. Nothing we're doing in Iraq has anything to do with "protecting our freedoms," unless you consider cheap gas and energy profligacy to be a God-given right of Americans. We're making an imperialistic grab for oil because we can't afford not to. Everyone in the world--including half the people of the United States--understands that. The rest of you constitute an all-volunteer ostrich brigade, with your heads buried up to your necks in sand.

And I'll perseverate about the stolen 2000 election precisely until something is done about it. What needs to be done: The Republican Congress needs to authorize the FBI to investigate allegations of election fraud; we need to prevent private companies from making voting machines, espeically if the presidents of those companies are Reconstructionist Christians with avowed biases; and we need a verifiable counting method that leaves a paper trail so that election results can be checked. Right now we're supposedly spreading "democracy" in the world when we don't even practice fair elections at home.

I also personally believe we should get rid of the electoral college and hold true national runoff elections, but then I believe in parliamentary multi-party systems. But that's really beside the point as well. The imperative is that we should do what we say we're doing: hold fair elections that are transparent and accountable.

The bottom line is that we are acting like liars and scoundrels in the world, and that, I contend, is beneath us. It shames us. It certainly does insult anyone who honestly and forthrightly gave their lives to REALLY protect our freedom.


8:03 PM  
Blogger Arie Friedman said...

Ok. Last comment - it's your blog and I'll not further outstay my welcome.

Everything else aside, any military member who is surprised by a stop-loss just didn't get it when they signed up. That part of the contract is pretty clear. As a veteran (U.S. Navy helicopter pilot with 7 years active and 12 years of reserve service), I am surprised that anyone is surprised about stop loss retentions during armed conflict. Definitely not the first time it happened, will definitely NOT be the last, and definitely not a betrayal. Can't account for people not taking a very seriously worded part of their contract seriously.

Nice debate, Mike. No offense intended at any point. I'll read your response "offline."

9:36 PM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

Comments are now closed for this post. Thanks.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Smart_AJ said...

The Smart Cars are already available in the US from ZAP ZP (NYSE). A California based company who is also planning on brining a Brazilian made car to the US, the Obvio! 828, that is a hybrid that can run on any combination of ethanol and gas. Zap is also the only car company who is selling a Chinese manufactured car in the US the 100% electric Xebra city car.

11:53 AM  

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